Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast, Part 4: “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”

This is the fourth part of an ongoing analysis of what has become a study of Andrew Bird’s anthropology. I have also been seeking to discover whether Andrew Bird’s title “Noble Beast” is a conscious borrowing of a conceptual view of Blaise Pascal and whether he may also base some of the songs on the creative evolution views of H.H. Wells. This song is another interesting one (they are all interesting!) that makes a valuable contribution to the “anthropology” of Andrew Bird.

Fitz and the Dizzyspells

Comes and goes

Like in fits and dizzyspells

Like the weather

 

And it blows

Like it knows what’s going wrong

Like it’s clever

 

Has a name but the name goes unspoken

Weather vanes

Were all twisted and broken

So soldier on, soldier on

 

Flailing to the whir of a snack machine

And muted screams of an old regime

And then oh

Something gets in it

The nightshade gets in it

We were all fast asleep

Were all so fast asleep

But you woke us

You woke us

from the strangest dream

that an aubergine

could ever know

would ever know

would ever know

 

Lava flows over crooks and craggy cliffs to the ocean

And explodes in a steam heat fevered cyclical motion

Has a name

But the name goes unspoken

It’s in vain

Cause the language is broken

So cast your own, cast your own

Soldier on

by Andrew Wegman Bird, 2009, Fat Possum Records

This song seems to be arranged as a riddle, with the subject of the song being the answer to the riddle. (Of course it seems that Andrew Bird rather enjoys and excels in writing riddles.) I almost gave up on having any idea of what this song is about, but after investing a fair amount of time I believe I have a hypothesis. Once again, as I analyzed this song I am quite impressed at the lyricism and conceptual content that Mr. Bird uses, and find his literary skills to be on par with his musical skills, which are obviously very high.

My hypothesis is that the subject of the song is “Life.” I will examine each part and show why I think this is so. I will not do this by continually posing the implied questions in each phrase or word, but instead just show how they point to the subject of “Life.”

Comes and goes

Like in fits and dizzyspells

Like the weather

Life “comes and goes”, not in the sense of merely beginning and ending but in the sense of being episodical or seasonal. “Fits and dizzyspells” come and go in episodes. “The weather” comes and goes in seasons. Life is experienced in this way. This truth is actually stated very interestingly and accurately in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, where main episodes and seasons of nature and also human life are presented.

1:5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
    and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they flow again.

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (1:5-7 & 3:1-8; English Standard Version)

Having this rich picture of “life” in mind provides a good basis for understanding the next phrases.

And it blows

Like it knows what’s going wrong

Like it’s clever

Life “blows” like the wind does, (remember it is “like the weather”). The wind also “comes and goes” being episodical and seasonal. So in this phrase we learn more as it seems that Life is like the wind and weather in the sense that it almost seems to be “clever” and “knows what’s going on.” Life in its episodical and seasonal nature is always providing a balance. Just as the weather normally provides a balance of sun & clouds, rain and dry, cold and hot, so life also provides a balance of its different elements as noted in Ecclesiastes.

Has a name but the name goes unspoken

Weather vanes

Were all twisted and broken

So soldier on, soldier on

We have a name for the great subject of our lives, which is “Life”,  but the name normally goes “unspoken” as we simply live with each individual perhaps having varying degrees of consciousness or ignorance of the name. We don’t so much talk about life, we simply live life. But for Andrew Bird the main reason we may not “talk” so much about life is because of the difficulty of knowing what to say about it. “Twisted and broken weather vanes” signifies the measuring of life. Weather vanes indicate and in a sense measure the wind, so here, since they are “twisted and broken” Andrew Bird seems to signify that our technologies for “indicating” or “measuring” life are not capable of correctly doing so. Can “life” be accurately measured by the technological instruments that we have crafted with our own hands? Notwithstanding this “difficulty” of measuring life, Andrew Bird simply encourages us to “soldier on.”

Flailing to the whir of a snack machine

And muted screams of an old regime

Why we need to “soldier on” becomes even more explicit, because our failed “technologies” leave us “flailing” which probably signifies aimless movement. This is because what our technologies actually communicate to us regarding the “Life” they are measuring amounts to the significance of “the whir of a snack machine” and the joy of the “muted screams of an old regime.” Andrew Bird seems here to provide a serious indictment on our human technologies that have monopolized life with the equally disastrous and disheartening consequences seen in the extremes of mere triviality and genocidal regimes. (For the latter, one example is the technologies of gassing showers and labor camps of the Nazi regime.) It is also worth noting here that “old regime” probably refers to the “old” technological (modernistic) way of understanding “Life.”

And then oh

Something gets in it

The nightshade gets in it

Thankfully, “Life” can save us from such a dismal life given by “the old regime” because “something gets in it.” What gets in it is “the nightshade.” The first thing to note here is simply that nightshade is an “organic” thing, a plant to be specific. What our technologies lack is the recognition that they are actually in the hands of something “organic” that is greater. The “organic” may include the ideas of “Life” as alive, growing, tenacious, tender, and beautiful. But we allow our own technology to dominate and dehumanize us by using it to measure ourselves. (This was what I think the song “Nomenclature” was about.) But invariably the organic “nightshade gets in it.” The second thing to note here is that nightshade is usually thought of as “deadly” as in poisonous. Andrew Bird seems to be saying that we need a strong medicine, in essence something so powerful that it will kill us in our relation to “the old regime.” The nightshade here seems equivalent to the “calculated blow to the head” that was needed “to light the eyes of all the harmless sociopaths” in “Oh No.” In similar fashion, as the blow to the head does not kill us but enlightens us instead, so the “deadly nightshade”does not kill us but awakens us instead.

We were all fast asleep

Were all so fast asleep

But you woke us

You woke us

from the strangest dream

that an aubergine

could ever know

would ever know

would ever know

The repetition in the first two sentences shows how deeply “asleep” we had become.  We were “unconscious” in regard to the awareness of “Life” under the propaganda of the old regime. But someone woke us! Who was it. I was tempted to say “who else but God?” But I think that the you is referring to the subject of the song, namely “Life.” (Of course I am not saying, and I think that Andrew Bird is not saying, that God is not the Creator and sustainer of Life and made it so that it “wakes us up.”) Life itself wakes us from the “strangest dream, which of curse is what actually happens when we dream and awake. What wakes us each time we sleep? I would answer that “Life” wakes us. (It is extremely interesting how fluidly the images change in this wondrous song, and how we enter into the different modes of existence in the metaphors provided. Life coming and going in episodes morphs into life in an old regime which morphs into dreaming the strangest dream while sleeping, etc.)  And now the song morphs into what an eggplant (aubergine) dreams about: nothing! It seems that aubergine, which obviously rhymes with “old regime” is fitting not merely for the phonics, but because it pictures the subjects of the old regime as “vegetables.” Just previously something “organic” was seen as a positive metaphor, but this “organic” vegetable is certainly a negative one. People are not vegetables and if their mind behaves as such, it is not thought to be a good sign of life. To complete the meaning of the metaphor, it seems that Andrew Bird is saying that people were awakened from the the strangest “dream” that they have the capacity to know, both now (“could ever now”) or at any time in the future (“would ever know”). Therefore it seems that the strangest thing people could ever conceive of is that they are only what they “knew” under the old regime of technology! (Of course remember here that this technology is really the “scientism” we have mentioned in the previous posts.)

Lava flows over crooks and craggy cliffs to the ocean

And explodes in a steam heat fevered cyclical motion

In this image of lava flowing to the ocean with the resulting steam heat and motion, we have a sort of return to the image of an episode of life. It is an episode of inanimate material, which of course the wind and weather also are. But they episodes of life. Of course he is describing the scene and we are seeing it in our imagination and do see “inanimate” episodes of life. This raises an interesting concept, merely in the fact that what we know of “Life” includes things that can seem to be meaningless. How can the episodes of “inanimate” nature have any meaning? But this is not so easy to answer. Who is asking the question? Who is seeing these meaningless events happen? If something sees and thinks about these things are they still meaningless? Were they meaningless to begin with? What if God alone has seen such things? What if no man sees, but God alone sees, the proverbial  tree fall in the forest? Jesus said that God sees each sparrow that falls: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) But these things are not only seen by God, but by man. Blaise Pascal said

But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.  (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, #347, First Published 1669)

The Grateful Dead also had a very interesting song that said “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.” Andrew Bird next returns to the “unspoken name” of the subject. This time he rhymes “weather vane” with “its in vain” before concluding the song with an interesting ending.

Has a name

But the name goes unspoken

It’s in vain

Cause the language is broken

So cast your own, cast your own

Soldier on

In his return to the main reason why the “name is unspoken” he repeats the earlier idea of the insufficiency of the twisted and broken weather vanes with the the more forthright statement “It’s in vain cause the language is broken.” He seems to be saying that we have insufficient language to describe life. He then seems to move to what language is based upon, namely “vision.” He says “cast your own” signifying that we need to cast our own language based upon our own vision of life. This may seem a subjective falling into relativism where life could mean something different to everyone, and it is also possible the he sees all language as simply inadequate for “measuring” life.

But I think that in line with the main context of the song he may simply be saying that the language of the old technological regime of scientism needs to be replaced with an organic empiricism that remembers the “live-er” when it considers “Life”. In other words who is observing and thinking about “Life”? Who is the “eyes of the world? Therefore we seem to have arrived again in the empirical anthropology of Blaise Pascal.

Andrew Bird concludes with the “soldier on” but this time it is not simply done in spite of the discouragement from faulty methods of “knowing life”, but because of the encouraging “creation” of a new “method of knowing” that is based in human “intuitive knowledge” and unlimited in its “realistic vision” of the wonder of “Life”, a life that cannot be measured by our technology!

Written by BMC, March 13, 2012

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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